Before the final inning of this year ends and you slide into the holiday season home base I wanted to update you on a few things:
Yesterday, the Justice Department announced a lawsuit to block Penguin Random House’s Acquisition of Simon & Schuster. ABA’s concern about this matter has never been about these players, it’s always been about the game. PRH is a valued partner of independent bookstores in many ways, but the continued consolidation of publishing power that this sale could represent threatens to undermine competition in the book industry, harming the interests of American consumers and putting bookstores and authors at risk. ABA appreciates the Justice Department's due diligence in investigating this deal, and we appreciate the Biden Administration’s support of competition in the marketplace and of small businesses. We hope the DOJ’s support continues and that they prioritize our concerns about Amazon outlined in ABA’S position paper sent to state attorneys general last November. A top priority for ABA continues to be lobbying against Amazon’s monopoly power.
And check out Raven Book Store’s Danny Caine’s recent op-ed on this topic, in which he writes: “Currently, there are real attempts happening at the federal level to spur antitrust reform and fix this outdated interpretation of antitrust law. To help level the playing field, Congress is considering new Big Tech anti-monopoly legislation aimed at breaking the stronghold Amazon and Google enjoy at our expense. For small businesses to thrive, even survive, we need lawmakers to act.”
American Booksellers for Free Expression (ABFE)
I’m grateful to the ABA Board for their in-depth, thoughtful conversations this past year on behalf of the membership about ABA’s value of freedom of expression; ABA’s commitment to equity, access, antiracism, and representation; and how the two relate. (I also appreciate ABA members and ABA staff who shared their thoughts about these topics with me.) The board’s recent changes to the ends policies (“Core members have the resources in support of their right to freedom of expression” and “Legal and regulatory policies reflect the interests of independent bookstores…”) create a space for ABA to move forward committed to both values in new ways that best serve our membership, allowing us to focus on our priority of helping bookstores and booksellers prepare for the future and thrive.
ABFE will continue to support members around freedom of expression in many of the ways that it always has: organizing and promoting Banned Books Week; providing resources such as freedom of expression and privacy statement templates, and information about preparing for controversial author events; hosting a hotline for stores presented with freedom of expression or privacy emergencies (for example, event protesters or a subpoena for customer records); and supporting advocacy work through our coalition partners (co-signing amicus briefs that are directly related to bookstores’ needs, for example, and connecting bookstores whose free expression concerns are outside of ABFE’s focus with coalition partners best suited to address their needs).
With the ABA board’s ends policies changes, ABFE’s work will now be fully focused on freedom of expression issues directly related to bookstores rather than focusing on broader free expression efforts. ABFE's coalition partners include organizations focused on those broader free expression efforts. ABFE will work closely with these partners on issues related to bookstores and will refer bookstores to the coalition partners on issues outside of ABFE's new focus. As we move forward with ABFE’s clarified mission, we will keep the membership informed via Bookselling this Week as well as via the ABFE page on BookWeb, which has recently been updated to reflect changes and provide transparency.
Equity, Access, Antiracism, & Representation
Following up on my letter to members dated August 5, I wanted to give you an update on the progress with our plan that I had shared: We have completed 99% of the in-house audit of all ABA systems and programs, reviewing everything through a DEI lens, and we implemented new checks and balances. The Bi-Monthly Boxed Mailing, Advance Access, and Net Galley titles are now screened for hate speech per the UN’s definition. Programs with titles provided by booksellers — Indie Bestseller List, Indie Next List, and Kids Next List — are not screened. In both cases we leave it to booksellers to decide for themselves what they buy, read, promote, and sell. This program information has also been updated on BookWeb for more transparency. We’re excited to announce that our new DEIA Membership Manager will be starting in a couple of weeks! And we are making an offer to a new copy editor this week. The Beta Advance Access program (a galley-on-demand program) for marginalized voices is in development with an expected launch date in January. The first LGBTQIA2S+ forum between members and ABA staff for booksellers took place last week. The ABA staff training/discussion on Queer history and activism took place a few weeks ago. And we continue to prioritize our commitment to antiracism, access, equity, and representation, and look for ways to advance this work for ABA, its members, and for the book industry. Thank you to the DEIC members and others who help support and inform this work.
We spent six months at the beginning of this year analyzing the current platform, surveying bookstore customers and IndieCommerce users, consulting with the IndieCommerce Advisory Council, and interviewing two dozen ecommerce experts to gather insights and input to inform a plan for the future of ecommerce for our members. The ABA Board was updated regularly throughout our process and the board discussed IndieCommerce, the future needs of members, and ultimately the proposed plan at length before voting on behalf of the membership to make the $3 million dollars financial commitment for us to move forward with IndieCommerce 2.0.
We’ve been well underway for over 4 months now with a development team of 10 working to build a significantly improved platform with more user-friendly software for content creators, an improved shopping cart, a more modern look, additional payment methods, and more.
Thank you to the almost 300 IndieCommerce and IndieLite stores that attended the informational sessions that Phil, Geetha, and I hosted in October to update users on the progress, as well as the ecommerce sales & traffic volume trends and new functionality for the current platform. (A recording is available on BookWeb for those who were unable to attend and there will be another session at Winter Institute.) Hopefully, you’ve seen some of the improvements that our development team has been rolling out weekly to make the current platform stronger going into the holiday season, including the two new templates that over a dozen of stores have already transitioned to. In January we’ll have another update for you, hopefully including a timeline for the IndieCommerce 2.0 roll out.
Those are a few of the things we’ve been working on along with the planning for Winter Institute which is full steam ahead! (I’m especially excited about our keynotes. The first announcement is in BTW today.) I wanted to wrap up this letter with some thank yous and some housekeeping:
Please vote. We have extended the deadline in an attempt to reach quorum!
We wish we could have attended all of them, and we wish we could have seen everyone in person, but it was great seeing so many of you at some of the regional annual meetings! Thank you for having us.
Thank you to all of you who supported our efforts this past year by voting on bylaws changes and in elections; nominating board directors; responding to surveys; filling out ABACUS; emailing us with concerns and ideas; and serving on boards, committees, task forces, advisory councils, nominating and selection committees, and panels. Your input and efforts helped us in countless ways and we were more effective in supporting the stores because of you.
When we all look up again it will be January 2022. May your holiday season be profitable. May your holidays be bright. And may we all start the new year with renewed energy and hope for the future.